Building neuroscience capacity in Africa

"These small donations have a huge impact in the training of students in Africa."

- November 28, 2011

Dr. Sunday Bisong (left) from the University of Calabar, Nigeria with Dr. Richard Brown.
Dr. Sunday Bisong (left) from the University of Calabar, Nigeria with Dr. Richard Brown.

 A chance meeting 18 years ago propelled Richard Brown into a new realm of neuroscience: helping to foster the burgeoning neuroscience community in Africa.

“A small thing I can do has a large reverberation,” says Dr. Brown, a professor in Dalhousie’s Department of Psychology. “But it’s the people there who do the work of building up everything.”

That chance meeting in 1993 was with Dr. Chuma Okere, who came from Nigeria but was working at the time as a post-doctoral student in Japan.

“I was at a meeting in Japan, and the poster next to me was by Dr. Okere from Nigeria. It led to me being asked to organize a symposium in Abuja, Nigeria in 2003. I ended up giving most of the symposium myself.”

During that same trip, Dr. Brown took the 10-hour drive from Abuja to Ile-Ife and gave three lectures and some laboratory demonstrations at Obafemi Awolowo University. He and the participants built some makeshift equipment.

“We used the bottom of a big water container as a water maze, and also built a prototype open field test out of cardboard boxes taped together. Later a plastic open field was made.”

Dr. Brown travels to Africa — usually Kenya or Nigeria — at least once a year. And when he goes, he stuffs his luggage with donated neuroscience equipment and textbooks.

He’s leaving for Nigeria again on December 2, and he’s gathering donations right now.

Every little bit helps


He says he has seen neuroscience progress over the years in Africa, but the job is far from done.

“When I first started these trips, I met isolated people who were struggling to do neuroscience,” he says. “Now I meet dozens and dozens of people who are struggling to do neuroscience.”

This December, Dr. Brown will visit four Nigerian schools.  He will participate in the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) Neuroscience School in Ibadan, and then give lectures at the University of Ilorin, the University of Uyo and the University of Calabar.

“Many of the universities in Nigeria are in sad shape, and they can use as much support as possible,” said Dr. Brown. “Many of the buildings are decrepit. The classrooms have wooden benches chewed by termites. There are often no bookstores to get textbooks.”

That’s why he never arrives empty-handed, thanks to his generosity plus donations from his neuroscience colleagues at Dalhousie.

 “As usual, I would like to take as many new or used neuroscience books as I can carry,” he says, adding the books can be on any field of neuroscience, including neuro-anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and psychology.

“They should be five years old or less, unless they are considered ‘classics.’”

As well, Dr. Brown is helping one of his former students, Dr. Adebimpe Adekola from Ile-Ife who now works in pediatric medicine.

Dr. Adekola is looking for a Lithmann’s pediatric stethoscope, and adult stethoscopes for three of her colleagues. She would also appreciate books on obstetrics and gynecology.

If you have a donation for Dr. Brown, please contact him at Donations can be brought to his office (LSC 3335) or the Psychology main office.

“These small donations have a huge impact in the training of students in Africa.”

Expanding capacity


Dr. Brown was the director of the Dalhousie Neuroscience Institute from 1996-99 and has used his experience to help develop neuroscience programs in Africa.

He presented a workshop on Seven Steps to Setting up a Neuroscience Program in African Universities at the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA) meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in December 2009 and this was published as an invited paper in the special neuroscience issue of the Archives of Ibadan Medicine in 2010.  

Since this time he has been meeting with African university administrators about the development of African neuroscience institutes.

Dr. Brown gives a lot of credit for the growth of neuroscience research and education to the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO), which, according to its website is a “union of neuroscience organizations with the aim to promote and support neuroscience training and collaborative research around the world.”


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